Software Musings

The Barbarians v.a.v. the Gates

Posted on: 23/10/2006

I’m just back from my evening stroll. Some evenings I wander through the park and wonder about dog owners, other evenings I wander into the town centre and wonder about nightclub customers. Tonight, the latter.

There is a bookshop chain (think of a sort of physical manifestation of Amazon) in Canada called Chapters and some years ago they set up shop in a central site on the corner of Rideau Street and Sussex Drive. It was a good bookshop: quiet with tasteful background music, a reasonable maths and a good technology selection. This was as becomes a town with three universities—it can be assumed that, at least during term time, a reasonable percentage of the population could read. Of course, over time it’s gone downhill. The music has become intolerable, the maths section reduced to “The Schanuel Conjecture for Dummies” and “All anyone ever needs to know about the zeroes of the zeta function” and the technology relegated upstairs bordered by “young adult fiction” (an interesting genre apparently belying the belief that all IQs are positive), books on how to make lots of money on the stock market and the toilets.

But the philosophy section wasn’t bad. I measure the level of a civilisation by balancing the number of bookcases dedicated to “New Age”, “Witchcraft” and suchlike to the number dedicated to philosophy and Ottawa wasn’t doing badly. Three bookcases of philosophy to six of New Age is about right I think. We need people who may be 10 cents short of a dollar to spend their money on lottery tickets, etc. to allow our benevolent government to support good causes without the need to raise taxes for the rest of us. And three bookshelves of philosophy organised alphabetically made clear the preponderance of philosophers with surnames starting with letters in the last third of the alphabet.

Imagine my horror this evening as I passed through. We now have two bookcases of philosophy and seven of New Age, including what appears to be one whole section populated entirely with books by James Randi’s friend Sylvia Browne. If you’re not familiar with Randi’s million dollar challenge then I suggest you wander over there. Along with it being the end of the working week, my Fridays are made by reading Randi’s latest column.

So, the ratio of new age has risen from two-thirds to seven-nineths. The barbarians really now have breached the gates.


1 Response to "The Barbarians v.a.v. the Gates"

Ah… Borders in Kingston Upon Thames. Opened with 8 shelves of science (only 2 of which were “popular”) and 4 of maths. I bought some interesting books there by browsing – books I’d never have thought of.

Slowly maths was combined with science, then “babies and childcare” started to grow on the shelves. (Maybe I’m their main customer and they’ve realised that I’m temporarily slowing down my science career to have a baby?!)

Now we have 4 shelves of science – 3 of them on “popular” science. I asked about this once and was told that if I wanted intellectual books I should buy them on Amazon. It was completely incomprehensible that I might just browse a bookshop and buy an intellectual book at random. More expected that I’d have been given a list by my tutor that I could just order online.

Oh and downstairs their large classical music cd section has halved and their foreign-language film section has quartered. I now buy about 1/10th the books I used to buy. I assume others make up the shortfall.

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October 2006
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The author of this blog used to be an employee of Nortel. Even when he worked for Nortel the views expressed in the blog did not represent the views of Nortel. Now that he has left, the chances are even smaller that his views match those of Nortel.
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